The New York Times bestselling authors Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed have teamed up to bring readers a timely and captivating story. Jamie Goldberg, an awkward 17-year-old, is terrified of anything public speaking related. He’s more than happy to volunteer for his local state senate candidate, as long he doesn’t have to talk to anyone else. So, of course, he would never consider canvassing door-to-door — until Maya comes around.
Maya’s life, meanwhile, isn’t going to plan. Her parents are separating, her summer trip was cancelled, and her best friend has been too busy to hang out — all during Ramadan. With nothing else to keep her occupied, Maya’s mother volunteers her to canvass with Jamie, someone she doesn’t even know — but after a while, it’s not so bad.
First and foremost, I loved the friendship between Jamie and Maya from the get-go. I’ve read a lot of books where two characters spark a friendship that leads to a relationship but causes their friendship to be filled with awkward and uncomfortable sexual tension from the moment they meet. This was not the case with Maya and Jamie. Sure, they were awkward. What teenagers aren’t? But I was never really waiting for something to happen, even though I was rooting for them. I was more focused on enjoying their friendship.
One of my favorite qualities about their friendship was how it helped them both find a little more confidence as the story progressed. They were both a little awkward around each other at first, afraid of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, but eventually the trust between them grew. They were never judgmental. They listened and supported each other and made sure to laugh about it afterwards. Little things they would not previously have had the courage to face were more surmountable because they knew the other would have their back, which led to both of them being able to stand up for themselves in multiple ways. And, most importantly (if we’re being honest), they have a mutual love for The Office and Target. What more do you need?
Albertalli and Saeed also bring their own unique perspectives to Jamie and Maya, respectively. The best part about these two writing a book together is that they brought a cross-cultural story to the table, with characters who show interest in the each other’s practices that form their identities. Jamie, who’s Jewish, begins not knowing anything about Ramadan, something that embarrasses him in his early interactions with Maya. Likewise, Maya (who’s Muslim), doesn’t know much about Judaism. Regardless, she takes in everything Jamie tells her about Sophie’s (his sister) bat mitzvah. By the end of the book, both show enthusiasm about what they’ve learned.
On a more serious note, their religious identities are also important in the way they view and treat the upcoming special election they are canvassing for. Throughout the book, they begin to learn why what they’re doing matters, especially as some events occur that personally affect them. The more they learn about the opposing candidate and each other, they more obviously embrace their identities and begin to speak out more to protect them.
Yes No Maybe So is very much a character driven novel — even beyond Jamie and Maya — and it works in Albertalli and Saeed’s favor. Every character plays an important role in the story, from the two main characters to the character with the least amount of page time. They all play an important role in some way and add complexity to the story that grounds it. Albertalli and Saeed are certain not to waste any character or part of the story, and that, to me, is what makes this book so impressive and worthwhile.
Story-wise, I was intrigued as soon as I read the summary, and even more so when I read the authors’ note providing background about the idea. I was really floored by how sobering the story was, especially knowing the context. Albertalli and Saeed seamlessly wove their personal feelings into the story; it’s one they care deeply about, and it shows. They didn’t passively tackle it, and I admire the way they chose to tell it. I really enjoyed how the main plot line and the smaller plot lines (e.g Maya and Jamie’s separate lives) worked together to create the general story. It’s a wonderfully written one.
Overall, Yes No Maybe So is a book well worth your time. Albertalli and Saeed created believable, lovable, and admirable protagonists who remind us of the importance of using your voice, even if it’s doing something behind the scenes. The book provides important commentary about the effect 2016 had on the country, and while Albertalli and Saeed remind readers about the negatives, they also created a story full of light and hope. This is a story we all need, and it’s bound to stick with you.